Business as usual at Toa Payoh, Punggol bus interchanges after being named as Covid-19 clusters

A view of Toa Payoh Bus Interchange on Aug 27, 2021. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A view of Punggol Bus Interchange on Aug 27, 2021. ST PHOTO: SYAMIL SAPARI

SINGAPORE - Bus services ran normally and staff went about their workday as usual at the two bus interchanges on Friday (Aug 27), a day after they were named as new Covid-19 clusters.

When The Straits Times visited the Punggol and Toa Payoh bus interchanges around noon, bus drivers, as well cleaning personnel and food and beverage outlet staff, said that the workday was the same as any other, although some did express concern over the active coronavirus cluster at their workplace.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Health announced that all staff at Punggol Bus Interchange and Toa Payoh Bus Interchange will be tested for Covid-19 after clusters were detected at these places.

The Toa Payoh interchange, managed by SBS Transit, was crowded at lunchtime, as staff were seen filling up its small canteen. Eateries in the large indoor and air-conditioned interchange were packed and many people, including bus drivers, were seen buying takeaway food.

Four drivers ST spoke to were not concerned about the interchange being an active coronavirus cluster. All of them said that they were fully vaccinated, and that they take a Covid-19 test at least once in 10 days.

One of them said that most of the SBS Transit bus drivers have been fully vaccinated, and only about 2 per cent were not fully vaccinated.

Another also said that due to their short breaks and lunchtimes, they do not spend too much time in the canteens or public areas, and mostly just finish their meals quickly before continuing their work.

Over at Punggol Bus Interchange, the usual crowd of commuters went about their day as bus captains continued to drive.

Its canteen, however, was closed for cleaning, and staff were seen carrying takeaway food from shops in the area.

The bus interchange and its drivers there are managed by Go-Ahead Singapore.

A bus driver, who did not want to be identified, said that the testing for him and his colleagues is done "on an ad-hoc basis".

He added that he was tested twice last week, but pointed out that there is no strict regime to get tested, unlike workers in other sectors.

Commuters boarding a bus at Punggol Bus Interchange on Aug 28, 2021. ST PHOTO: SYAMIL SAPARI

But while bus drivers seemed relatively unfazed that their workplaces had been listed as Covid-19 clusters, food stall operator Francis Sim, 50, said that he felt worried for his health when he heard the news.

The operator of Super Nonya, which sells pre-packed food at the interchange, added that he was worried that the announcement might drive away customers and affect his business.

There are now four active clusters linked to bus interchanges, including those in Bishan and Sengkang that were both announced on Aug 14.

ST has contacted SBS Transit and Go-Ahead Singapore, as well as the Land Transport Authority for comment on the clusters in the bus interchanges islandwide.

Infectious diseases experts said that commuters need not be concerned if they have visited these bus interchanges, and should just monitor their health as they normally would.

A view of Toa Payoh Bus Interchange on Aug 27, 2021. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Dr Paul Tambyah, president of the Asia-Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection, said: "I do not think that they should be particularly concerned. Just like other people, if they have fever and/or respiratory symptoms, they should see a doctor, who can evaluate them.

"The reason is that the time spent in a bus interchange for a commuter is a lot less than most people spend in a mall or a housing block."

Even though there are some cases of Covid-19 in the community such as these bus interchange clusters, it is unlikely that the impact to the healthcare system here will be severe given Singapore's high vaccination rate, said Professor Ooi Eng Eong.

The expert on emerging infectious diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School said: "We need to keep coming back to ask ourselves what exactly is the problem of Covid-19 - not the number of cases, but severe Covid cases, how it threatens lives and occupies our limited healthcare resources.

"We can live with Covid-19 cases. We just need to keep the severe cases low."

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